Commemorative Silver Dollars

Posted - July 6, 2023
Commemorative Silver Dollars

Commemorative silver dollars offer both pure silver bullion and exceptional numismatic value. For some collectors, these products offer unprecedented value. But timing and measuring the market for these silver items can be more difficult than investing in bullion coins. How should investors approach these unique investment vehicles? 

Hero Bullion offers a wide variety of commemorative silver dollars. This category of product celebrates some of the most important moments in American – and world – history. When evaluating commemorative silver dollars, collectors should consider numismatic value, silver content, and historical context. All three of these considerations help to determine the value of your commemorative coin. 

We’ll cover these factors in today’s guide. Wondering how to evaluate commemorative silver dollars? We’ve got you covered. 

Evolution of Commemorative Silver Dollars

Commemorative silver dollars have been used to celebrate important people, places, and events for hundreds of years. One of the first American commemorative silver dollars comes from 1899. The coin honors American Revolutionary hero Marquis de Lafayette and remains an extremely rare and valuable collectable piece. 

How can learning about the history of commemorative silver dollars help you make better investment decisions? We’ll take a better look at the history of this unique category of silver coin below. 

Early Examples

While we did cover the 1899 Marquis de Lafayette Silver Dollar above, there are a couple of commemorative silver dollars that are even older. The 1892 Columbian Exposition Silver Dollar contains .90 fine silver bullion and commemorates Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas. 

According to the U.S. Mint, this coin was the first commemorative silver piece authorized by the United States Congress. This 1892 coin is generally considered the first true commemorative coin in American history, although some sources point to an earlier gold piece – the 1848 Quarter Eagle – as the true original U.S. commemorative coin. 

Coinage Act of 1873 and Production Halt

United States Coins - SanFranciscoMintCommemorative - PICRYL - Public  Domain Media Search Engine Public Domain Search
American Eagle Coin

The Coinage Act of 1873 is commonly referred to as the “Crime of 1873” by coin collectors and silver investors. At the urging of President Grant, U.S. Congress took silver dollars out of the U.S. Mint’s offering, replacing them instead with gold coins. This law was highly controversial; collectors who had silver coins at the time were now in possession of relatively worthless products after they ceased being legal tender.

Certain silver coins remained legal tender following the passage of the 1873 Coinage Act. Other coins would no longer be considered legal tender, marking a substantial hit to their value. There was another major consequence to the Coinage Act of 1873, however. Because the law only allowed for certain silver coins to be made into legal tender by the U.S. Mint, the production of silver coins during this time period became rarer. 

20th-Century Revival

During the beginning of the 20th century, The U.S. Mint began to produce a significant number of commemorative silver dollars. In fact, some collectors actually criticized the mint’s strategy of continuous mint runs. One coin, the Oregon Trail Memorial piece, was actually minted eight separate times during just fourteen years. To some investors, these constant commemorative coin mintages diminished the value of commemorative coins. 

After the release of the Carver-Washington Half-dollar in 1954, the U.S. Mint listened to investor complaints and ceased their continual commemorative silver dollar mintage runs. The prohibition didn’t last long; the U.S. Mint continued their strategy of minting commemorative silver dollars in 1982 with its George Washington 250th Anniversary Half Dollar. This coin marks the revival of rare, low-mintage commemorative silver coins in the United States.

Since then, the Mint has released only a limited number of these rare commemorative silver dollars each year. 

Design and Symbolism 

Designs vary based on the year and edition of commemorative silver dollar you choose. Most commemorative silver dollars will feature a relatively static reverse depicting an American bald eagle, which is the official bird of the United States of America. Obverse will vary from year to year and will typically celebrate some event, landmark, or person from American history. 

Selection Process for Designs

The United States Mint actually publishes information about their commemorative silver coin selection process online. Commemorative silver dollars go through a nine-step process before they make it into collectors’ hands. After Congress passes legislation to mint the coins, the U.S. Mint creates its own design requirements before handing them off to a professional mint artist. 

The Secretary of the Treasury is tasked with selecting the final design of new commemorative silver dollars, which are then reviewed by committees and the stakeholders of the mint. Once the final design is approved by all stakeholders, artists sculpt the coin for an initial test die and striking. That’s quite a few steps! The result is typically a highly detailed, meticulously designed coin for collectors to enjoy. 

Depicting Figures, Landmarks and Events

All commemorative silver dollars celebrate some aspect of American culture and history. Figures, landmarks, and events are common targets used by mint designers to come up with new coin artworks. Some coins celebrate political figures, such as George Washington. Others emphasize core moments in American history, such as the American Revolution or victory in other important wars. 

There are also commemorative silver dollars minted to commemorate important sporting events or figures. The Mint actually released a 50th anniversary Jackie Robinson Commemorative Silver Dollar to celebrate the influence of this African-American baseball legend. 

Symbolism in Coin Elements

Commemorative silver coins are highly symbolic. Obverse designs often seek to illustrate their subjects in unique and symbolically significant ways. In the Jackie Robinson coin we discussed above, the U.S. Mint decided to show the baseball players sliding into home after an exceptional hit. This coin actually features a non-eagle reverse. Instead of the traditional bald eagle, the U.S. Mint chose to create a custom seal to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s major league debut. 

For most coins, the reverse is an opportunity to put a unique spin on classic American iconography. The bald eagle is a popular choice, and designs vary from piece to piece. Some reverses show an eagle in flight, while others instead emphasize the heraldic eagle of the United States. 

Collecting and Investing 

If you’re interested in adding commemorative silver dollars to your bullion portfolio, you’ve certainly come to the right place. Below, we’ll outline the values, rarities, and basic tips for investing you should know before buying commemorative silver dollars.

Factors Influencing Value

There are two main factors that influence the value of a commemorative silver coin: numismatic value and silver content. Most old commemorative silver coins will contain .90 pure silver, while newer collectable coins generally contain either .999 or .9999 fine silver bullion. If you’re looking to invest exclusively in the value of silver, commemorative silver dollars might not be for you. Their high premiums make it hard to invest in these products if you’re low on cash. We’d recommend high purity silver bars for low-capital investors. 

Rarity and Mintage Numbers

The rarity of a commemorative coin is the most important factor in determining its numismatic value. Numismatic value refers to the collectable value that investors are willing to pay. This amount is added to the spot price of the coin’s silver to create the total cost of your silver product. Numismatic value is typically highest for rare coins with low mintage numbers. 

Luckily for savvy investors who want numismatically valuable collectable coins, the U.S. Mint generally releases mint numbers for commemorative silver dollars on their website. This makes it easy for you to quickly evaluate how rare a coin is, which helps to determine the potential numismatic value of your silver piece. 

Grading and Authentication Process

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Commemorative Olympics Coin Reverse

Grading closely influences the value of your commemorative silver coin. Coins in poor condition might still be worth quite a bit of money, depending on their age and rarity. But for most modern coins, prices climb quickly for pieces of a higher quality. Avoiding counterfeits is an important part of smart investment; always ask for certification documents, especially when you purchase expensive commemorative silver dollars.

Professional coin grading services can help consumers verify the legitimacy and condition of their coin. When it’s time to sell your commemorative silver investments, you’ll want to have a professional take a look to give you an estimate of your coin’s value. 

Tips for Investing

The basic advice for investing in silver holds true for the volatile commemorative silver dollar market. Make sure you have a good grasp of your budget and risk tolerance before purchasing any silver product. For the commemorative silver dollar sector specifically, we recommend using online magazines and resources to develop an understanding of which coins have historically performed well as numismatic investments. 

Notable Commemorative Silver Dollars

Because of their history of over 200 years in the United States, there have been several notable commemorative silver dollars produced by the U.S. Mint. Smart investors should understand which coins perform well on the market, as well as which coins are likely to become more valuable over time. 

Below, we’ll outline a few of the most famous commemorative silver coins in American history, as well as some of the reasons behind their resounding success as investment vehicles. 

Highlighting Significant Coins

When you look for the most significant commemorative silver dollars on the market, you’ll want to pay careful attention to the objects that the coins celebrate. Sporting events are always particularly popular, and coins that emphasize popular periods in American history are likely to hold significant numismatic value to the right collectors. We tend to recommend coins concerned with American military history; many collectors on the secondary market are interested in buying coins that celebrate important military victories or moments. 

Extremely old commemorative silver dollars are also sought-after by investors. These coins will come with extremely high premiums. Some can even be worth tens of thousands of dollars! If you’re a budget silver investor, it might be best to appreciate these coins from a distance. But if you’ve got the money to spend, it’s tough to match the value appreciation of low mintage coins from hundreds of years ago. 

Preservation and Care

Proper preservation and care should be your priority once you’ve decided to invest in commemorative silver dollars. These coins are always worth quite a bit more when in peak condition than in cull, so you’ll want to take clear steps to ensure that your coins remain pristine and safe over time. Below, we’ll cover three considerations in proper coin maintenance: storage and handling, cleaning, and professional conservation. 

Proper Storage and Handling

It’s important that you take steps to properly handle and store your coins. We’ll start with handling. As long as you choose the right bullion dealer and make sure that they have a clear, safe shipping process, your coins should arrive without damage and inside of a protective cover. While we understand the urge to take your coins out and feel them yourself, it’s typically smarter to keep them in their protective coin case or sleeve. 

If you have to handle your coins, consider using gloves. The chemicals produced in sweat can erode your coins over time, leaving marks, tarnish, or blemishes that can be tough to take off. 

As for storage, make sure to keep your coins in a cool, dry place. Safes are always a good bet, but some investors balk at the idea of shelling out hundreds of dollars for a state-of-the-art safe. Regardless of which storage option you choose, make sure that your coins are locked away from the prying hands of children or animals. 

For collectors with a taste for expensive, rare commemorative silver dollars, consider storing your coins professionally. Many popular mints allow investors to store their valuable silver dollars in their own vaults, which gives you an added layer of security. 

Tips for Cleaning and Maintenance

1986 US Liberty Half Dollar Coin - PICRYL - Public Domain Media Search  Engine Public Domain Search
US Liberty Half Dollar Coin

We offer a more detailed coin cleaning guide, which you can check out here. The broad strokes are that you should avoid doing anything that could damage your coins during the cleaning process. Always be sure to consult a professional before doing anything radical to preserve your coins.

If you keep your coin in its protective case and store it properly, you might not even need to clean the coin at all. Selling a BU coin in its original protective case is a good way to ensure that you get maximum cash for your silver. 

Professional Conservation Services

Professional coin cleaning services also exist and may be a great last resort if you’re afraid of hurting the condition of your commemorative silver dollars while cleaning them prior to sale. The professionals at NGC have experience cleaning and preserving all sorts of coins in various conditions. We highly recommend considering these types of services, especially if you’re holding coins with substantial potential numismatic value. 

Future of Commemorative Silver Dollars

Where will the commemorative silver dollars market go in the next couple of decades? As silver continues to become a more valuable precious metal, it’s likely that the U.S. Mint will produce a number of valuable commemorative coins in the near future. 

Trends and Innovations in Designs

New minting innovations are scheduled to fundamentally change the market for collectable silver coins everywhere. New security features make buying silver coins more secure than ever before, and increasingly sophisticated mint technology might provide investors with greater levels of details than mint products have previously been able to provide. 

Upcoming Commemorations

One thing we love about the United States Mint is their transparency. On the official U.S. Mint website, you’ll find a list of upcoming products. 2023 marks the release of the U.S. Marine Corps One-Ounce Silver Medal, a commemorative coin that celebrates the legacy of the United States military. Like we said earlier, commemorative coins that invoke military symbolism are extremely popular among collectors, making the future U.S. Marine Corps commemorative coin a valuable potential investment. 

We don’t have much information about upcoming commemorative silver dollars, but we do know that the mint is likely to plan more popular commemorative silver coins in the near future. We’ll keep you posted on the latest developments in American coinage. 

Final Thoughts: Buying and Selling Commemorative Silver Coins

Hero Bullion offers a number of collectable silver coins to help you build your portfolio. Commemorative silver dollars are extremely popular among investors, and it isn’t difficult to see why. These coins celebrate some of the most important people, places, and events in American history. They offer a unique combination of numismatic and silver value, which gives investors multiple ways to profit. 

As you search for some of the most valuable commemorative silver dollars in the industry, make sure to take steps to protect and insure your investment. The last thing any collector wants is to have their coins stolen or damaged, either in transit or while being stored. Cleaning and storing your coins appropriately is a good way to keep your investment valuable for years to come. 

Do you still have questions about how to evaluate, purchase, or sell commemorative silver dollars? Feel free to reach out to our dedicated customer support team at any time. We’d be happy to give you advice about how you can find some of the best commemorative silver dollars on the market. 

About The Author

Michael Roets is a writer and journalist for Hero Bullion. His work explores precious metals news, guides, and commentary.